The sceptre of competing visions took centre stage at Squamish council this week, as representatives from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District outlined progress on the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS).
The product of years of discussion and planning, the RGS is framework for cohesive development across the whole of the SLRD, which includes Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and Lillooet.
Squamish Councillor Corrine Lonsdale was the most vocal. She lashed out at the process, saying the RGS has not figured prominently on council agendas.
“It’s a huge process,” she said, “and, from my perspective, we can’t do one thing in this document that won’t trigger an amendment.”
Worse, she said, council doesn’t seem to be up to speed on the details of the 50-page document.
Those comments sparked a heated exchange between Lonsdale and Mayor Ian Sutherland, who said the document was reviewed extensively at 12 different meetings involving political leaders.
“The point is,” he said, “we’ve seen the draft several different times.”
“No we haven’t,” Lonsdale shot back.
“If you attended those (meetings),” Sutherland said, “you got to take part in the process. If you didn’t, you didn’t.”
SLRD planner Steve Olmstead acknowledged Lonsdale’s concerns. Technically, he said, any individual municipality’s rezoning efforts could run afoul of the RGS, thereby triggering an amendment process. But, he added, that is not the spirit of the document.
“To me,” said councillor Mike Jensen, “it seems to be another layer of government imposing itself on our district.”
Meanwhile, according to the SLRD’s presentation, the region’s population is expected to grow by 35,000 come 2030. Regional strategies are needed.
Still, Lonsdale positioned herself against the plan, citing an example from her tenure as mayor to justify her stance.
“Ten years ago, when the idea was first introduced into the corridor, there was just no way it was going to be supported,” she said. “There were just too many problems.”
Early in the presentation, Olmstead noted the RGS is not just about land use. Rather, it’s about cohesive policy.
“Whistler has been really hit by affordable housing issues,” he said. “And Squamish is now, and Pemberton is starting to feel pressure in that area.”
According to Olmstead, regional policy development will best promote an exchange of ideas and a standard made universal across the SLRD. He went on to say that small developments will not clash with the RGS.
“If it’s a local matter, it’s going to stay local.”
Noting her experience in district politics, Councillor Greg Gardner was sympathetic to Lonsdale’s objections. At the same time, he waxed positive about the document.
“The world’s shrinking,” he said. “Our corridor is shrinking, and we need to understand what goes on beyond our community.”
While insisting that the process should be finalized before November’s municipal elections, Sutherland said a meeting should be scheduled with Kim Anema, District of Squamish chief administrative officer, come April or May.
Once the RGS is accepted by member municipalities, there’s a 120-day period in which municipal units can seek changes to its contents.